Afghan refugees seeking to resettle in the United States now have the full support of the Las Cruces City Council, following a unanimous vote to welcome those fleeing violence in Afghanistan.
Councilor Gabe Vasquez noted the proximity to Fort Bliss—where many refugees are temporarily living in the wake of America’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan—as one reason the city should prepare to welcome refugees into the Las Cruces community.
“I think this is an important statement to make during a time when we actually may see the influx of refugees in our own community here, for extended or permanent resettlement,” Vasquez said. “In Doña Ana County, within the Fort Bliss Complex, we have refugees being taken care of right now. These are folks that gave their lives in many ways to save American lives, and I think we owe it to them to return that favor.”
Approximately 2.6 million Afghans are currently living as refugees worldwide, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Kyle Reinert, a local immigration attorney, says thousands of Afghan refugees will go through Holloman Air Force Base within the next few months.
“We hope to be very involved in Holloman Air Force Base, where it's our understanding over the coming months about 5,000 refugees will probably be processed through,” Reinert said. “As things stand, we don't expect too many will resettle in this specific area, but we want to do our best to support everyone as they process through.”
Mayor Ken Miyagishima voiced his full support for Afghan resettlement, emphasizing a need to repay the men and women who worked to help the U.S. military.
“They gave up their comfort of their home for something they believe in and to be able to make sure that the U.S. servicemen and women knew how to communicate,” Miyagishima said. “This is truly something that I support as well. And I wish them the best here, in their new life in America.”
The council also approved the creation of a citizen ad hoc committee to provide public input on city redistricting. Deputy City Attorney Robert Cabello says the new redistricting efforts will better reflect the population growth reported in the most recent U.S. Census.
“The population has grown for this city about 14% approximately from 2010, 97,000 to 111,000 approximately, so it's time to redistrict,” Cabello said. “We're going to be using a sort of existing contract between Research and Polling Inc. from Albuquerque. They are doing the redistricting for Albuquerque. They also did the redistricting in 2010 for the city.”
Each city councilor will have the opportunity to select a committee member from their district, while the mayor will choose one individual from anywhere in the city. The committee will work with Research and Polling Inc. to review redistricting needs within the city.
Councilor Yvonne Flores says she hopes the selected committee members are representative of the diverse Las Cruces population.
“There may be people in our city who feel or believe that they don't have the wherewithal to be on a redistricting commission. However, that's who we need,” Flores said. “I’d hate to see any kind of gerrymandering, or any kind of shenanigan like of that sort. I just don't anticipate it, not in our city, but then you never know.”
Mayor Ken Miyagishima says the redistricting process should be fairly straightforward but must make allowances for the faster growing districts.
“I think it's really this simple. So, there's 111,000 residents divided by six that's 18,500,” Miyagishima said. “The challenge that we've had a couple times is districts five and six are the fastest growing. So, in order to keep that 18,500, the others, one through four, are going to have to get a little bit larger.”